Ornithological tourism

According to the World Tourism Organization, ornithological tourism, birdwatching or birding tourism, or avitourism, can be understood as the activity that involves moving from a place of origin to a specific destination, whose main purpose is to observe local avifauna in its natural environment.

Therefore, birdwatching or birding is a hobby or leisure activity typically based on the art of identifying as many species as possible through morphology, colors, singing.
 
The significant number of protected areas, geographical areas with some kind of European or national protection, existing in the Iberian Peninsula, particularly in the territory of Aragon, as well as the diversity of habitats and species of birds which can be observed in these and other areas, has resulted in the activity of bird watching being now considered by the tourism industry in certain rural areas of Aragon as a powerful possibility for their products to target a specialized audience, by creating and providing highly experiential tourism.
 
Aragon is among the places chosen by birdwatchers as an obligatory stopover in certain seasons. This is mainly due to the fact that several species of birds make this territory almost the only place where they can be watched.
 
These include large birds of prey such as lammergeier, the flagship bird of the Pyrenees, wallcreeper and, further south, steppe birds such as pin-tailed sandgrouse, black-bellied sandgrouse, little bustard and Dupont's lark, which are rarely seen elsewhere.

The Aragonese territory is bounded by three distinct geographic areas:

 

The Pyrenees to the north: a stretch approximately 135 km in length which corresponds to the western portion of the Central Pyrenees. This mountain range is where the highest summits in the region can be found, reaching an altitude of more than 3,000 m. The Pyrenees include four areas with different types of terrain which are arranged parallel to each other: Axial Pyrenees, Inner Pre-Pyrenees or Inner Ranges, Intra-Pyrenees Depression and Outer Ranges.

The Sistema Iberico mountain range to the south: It crosses Aragon diagonally and often intermittently along the right bank of the river Ebro. It includes the southwest of the province of Zaragoza and almost the whole of Teruel. The highest point is reached at 2,313 m, at the summit of Moncayo, on the border with the province of Soria.

The Ebro basin right between them, which would correspond to the so-called Central Plains, accounts for a significant portion of land. It is an asymmetrical basin in the centre of the depression which occupies more than 50% of its total area. It is drained by the river Ebro and its tributaries, following the directions of the mountain ranges that enclose it. The so-called ‘somontanos’ are geomorphologically differentiated areas in the depression which come into contact with mountain ranges.

 

Birds of Aragon

The fact that Aragon occupies the central part of the Ebro Valley, from the French border to the Sistema Iberico mountain range, means that a variety of environments can be enjoyed within 100 km, from alpine pasture lands to steppes, and from the latter to Moncayo and the mountain ranges in Teruel. Many different species of birds can be seen as a result of this diversity of habitats, a very low population density in 90% of the territory and relatively good conservation.

According to the Atlas of breeding birds in Aragon (Sampietro et al.), between 203 and 205 species regularly nest here, and about 15 more do so irregularly, plus a few more which were added once the Atlas had been published. Of the 366 Iberian species, 257 are considered to be breeding, so it can be said that Aragon is home to 80% of Iberian breeding birds.

The following birds can be found, based on their characteristics and habitats:

 

The Pyrenees

Birds of great interest can be found from the 3,000 meter high peaks to the mountain ranges that connect with the plains. A great diversity of forest types and the abundance of crags and abrupt ravines make it possible for some species to be a common sight here, while they are rare or even absent elsewhere in Europe.

The most recommended areas largely coincide with the network of protected areas: Valles Occidentales Natural Park, Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park, Posets-Maladeta Natural Park and Sierra y Cañones de Guara Natural Park.

Main ornithologically interesting species of birds:

Lammergeier, griffon vulture, Egyptian vulture, golden eagle, Bonelli's eagle, short-toed eagle, booted eagle, red kite, black kite, Northern goshawk, Eurasian sparrowhawk, peregrine falcon, capercaillie, rock ptarmigan, grey partridge, Tengmalm’s owl, black woodpecker, white-backed woodpecker, snow finch, Alpine accentor, wallcreeper, ring ouzel, rock thrush, citril finch, red-backed shrike, yellowhammer, ortolan bunting, Alpine chough and chough.

 

Sistema Iberico mountain range

A set of mountain ranges, from low mountain areas to fully Mediterranean ones, with low population density. Coniferous and oaks forests, abundance of river gorges.

Main ornithologically interesting species of birds:

Griffon vulture, Egyptian vulture, golden eagle, Bonelli's eagle, short-toed eagle, booted eagle, red kite, black kite, Northern goshawk, Eurasian sparrowhawk, peregrine falcon, grey partridge, rock thrush, blue rock thrush, red-backed shrike, citril finch, ortolan bunting and chough.

 

The Ebro Basin

A set of steppe and cereal areas dotted with various types of wetland, with some species of unique birds, which are very rare elsewhere in the country and unique in Europe.

Waterfowl

Those species of different genres which are linked to water in one way or another: rivers, reservoirs, ponds, reedbeds, rice fields, etc. Although Aragon is not especially relevant in the country in terms of number and diversity of waterfowl, this is by far the best known and most widely studied group of birds since they are easy to watch.

The most significant wetland areas in Aragon are: Gallocanta Lagoon, Cañizar, the reservoirs and irrigated land in Cinco Villas, the Sotonera reservoir, La Unilla in Candasnos, the Saladas salt lagoons in Chiprana, Bajo Ebro and Sariñena.

Main ornithologically interesting species of birds:

Little grebe, black-necked grebe, great crested grebe, cormorant, grey heron, bittern, little egret, cattle egret, purple heron, night heron, squacco heron, little bittern, greylag goose, shelduck, red-crested pochard, garganey, marsh harrier, purple gallinule, Baillon’s crake, Kentish plover, black-headed gull, yellow-legged gull and gull-billed tern.

 

Steppe birds

The central part of Aragon, known as the Ebro Basin, has peculiar geographical and climatic characteristics, with large flat areas at low altitude over sea level, low rainfall, prevalence of dry wind (cierzo) and a large temperature contrast between winter and summer.

The most typical areas are Campo de Belchite, Los Monegros, the areas surrounding Zaragoza, the Gallocanta basin, and Bajo Cinca.

Main ornithologically interesting species of birds:

Montagu's harrier, lesser kestrel, great bustard, little bustard, stone curlew, dotterel, black-bellied sandgrouse, pin-tailed sandgrouse, little owl, short-eared owl, roller, bee-eater, Dupont's lark, calandra lark, greater short-toed lark, lesser short-toed lark, Thekla lark, tawny pipit, black-eared wheatear, black wheatear, spectacled warbler, rock sparrow and chough.

Aragon has a large number of natural areas which are ideal for bird watching, all of them included in the Natura 2000 Network. There are various types of protection defined so that quality can be ensured in order to consider a natural area is ornithologically interesting:

 

  • IBAs (Important Bird Areas), are important areas for Bird Conservation. According to BirdLife, this is a network of natural areas to be preserved if we want to make sure that the most endangered and typical birds that inhabit them can survive. They are key sites for bird conservation, and are home to some of the most endangered species, whether by species or number. There are 63 areas which have been declared as IBAs in Aragon, with a total of 1,543,716 hectares.
  • The Natura 2000 Network is one of the great tools of the European Union for the implementation of a Common Policy on Environment. It was created by Council Directive 92/43/EEC, of 21 May 1992, on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora, commonly known as the Habitats Directive. The Natura 2000 Network includes the Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), established by the Habitats Directive, to which the Special Protection Areas for Birds (SPAs), designated in accordance with the Birds Directive (Council Directive 79/409/EEC, of 2 April 1979, on the Conservation of Wild Birds), must be added.
  • SPAs (Special Protection Areas for Birds) are sites that require special conservation measures in order to ensure the survival and reproduction of the bird species in particular. There are 45 SPAs in Aragon, with a total area of 8,492 km2.
  • SICs (Sites of Community Importance) are sites that remarkably contribute to maintaining or restoring types of natural habitat as those listed in Annex I of the aforementioned Directive, or a species listed in Annex II thereof, in a favorable conservation status. There are 156 SICs in Aragon, with a total area of 10,461 km2.